Frances Myers: In Memoriam 1936 – 2014

The following is a guest post by Leona Christie. In addition to being a talented artist, Christie is the Associate Professor of Printmaking, Drawing, and Digital Media at SUNY University at Albany, New York, and has been an occasional contributor and long time supporter of Printeresting.

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Frances Myers, 1988. Photo courtesy Louise Kames

An artist, master printer, and professor, Frances Myers mentored generations of students in the Graphics area at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she taught for 25 years. Myers imparted her deep knowledge of the intaglio process, while continuously freeing herself and her students to incorporate new processes, forms, technologies, and subject matter, and to consider the architectural space in which work is seen.  Adriane Herman, MFA UW-Madison ’97, notes,  “Back when there were actual panels at SGC about whether one can really make art using computers, Fran was hiring students to train her to use the new technology and writing grants to get new equipment (for the printmaking area).”

When interviewed about her early life in Racine, Wisconsin, Myers expressed her admiration for a high school art teacher, Sister Monica “…who seemed to have some mystery in her past. She carved modern religious figures in the manner of the German expressionist Ernst Barlach. She gave advice cautiously, neither recommending nor discouraging dedication to a life in art, but ‘dedication’ was a firm part of her agenda, and mine too.” * Also derived from her youth was an appreciation for architecture; Racine, in fact, is the site of two major Frank Lloyd Wright buildings.

Her early professional life included setting up an art studio down the street from Jay DeFeo in San Francisco during the era of the Beats and participating in civil rights activism. She toured the cultural centers of Europe in the early 1960’s, returning to the San Francisco Art Institute to study etching with Stanley Hayter (of Atelier 17 in Paris) before heading to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to get her MFA in 1965. Myers then returned to England in the mid-60’s where she was making prints, teaching at St. Martins and attending artist parties at David Hockney’s.

The architectural aquatints she made early in her career, inspired by Wright and by Art Moderne buildings of the 20’s and 30’s, were widely collected and exhibited in England and elsewhere. Returning to the states, she went on to develop complex relief prints in the 1980’s transforming Wonder Woman and other icons, followed by more experimental and expanded photo-printwork focusing on subject matter ranging from Teresa of Avila to the human suffering following the floods of Katrina.  Her artist statement from 2012 conveys the breadth of the processes she harnessed to convey her ideas and passions:  “My printmaking obsession history is like streaming video, a flow of etching, relief, Xerox, large format engineering copier prints, wall installation, digital prints, video and video stills printed onto canvas and translucent media.”

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Frances Myers, The Martydom, color woodcut, 20 ½” x 15”  1985

Myers transferred this open-mindedness and energy to her students, many of whom now form the vanguard of printmaking in academia and the art world. It was her Wonder Woman series from the 1980’s that inspired a tribute portfolio organized by Lenore Thomas MFA ‘03 (Associate Professor, University of Pittsburgh) and Amanda Knowles MFA ’02, presented as Myers received the Excellence in Teaching Printmaking Award at the SGCI conference in 2013, where Frances also was celebrated and honored with a solo exhibition at the Milwaukee Institute of Visual Arts. Many of Myers’s former graduate students represented in the portfolio and elsewhere are now professors in highly-ranked programs across the country, constituting part of what has come to be known as “the Madison Mafia.”

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Wonder Women print portfolio cover and title page, 2013 (above & below)

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Louise Kames, MFA ’88, UW-Madison, Professor and Chair at Clarke University, wrote in honor of her retirement:

“Fran was/is forever elegant in her manner, in her teaching, and in creating artwork. She balanced the discipline prevalence of male bravado with feminine grace and strength. She was the ideal role model for hundreds of women students over the years. She never shied away from injustice. As a student, I was constantly in awe of her ability to teach in heels and designer skirts. Fran’s beauty is both physical and spiritual. She has been the undying, loyal supporter of current and past students. She taught us much about community and generosity with the joy of studio potlucks and exchange portfolios. We are forever grateful for all she has given and will never forget her laugh or that all-knowing glance over her eye glasses.”

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Showing her work to students in Briony Morrow-Cribbs’s etching class at the UW, 2013

Myers received two National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships, and her prints are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, The Chicago Art Institute, the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard University, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, the Achenbach Foundation, San Francisco, the Smithsonian Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Musee des Arts Decoratif, Paris, among others. Her  work has been widely exhibited nationally and internationally.

Frances Myers is survived by her husband Warrington Colescott, the internationally known printmaker, along with an extensive network of family, friends, and generations of former students. A beautiful tribute to Frances was posted by Brittany Kieler, BFA UW-Madison ‘12, on her studio page here.
-Leona Christie
Bachelor’s Degree, UW-Madison, ‘91
* interview quoted from Progressive Printmakers: Wisconsin Artists and the Print Renaissance (1999)

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Categories: Artists, Current Events, Print-related

2 Responses to “Frances Myers: In Memoriam 1936 – 2014”

  1. Ron Ruble says:

    I loved Fran, especially her humor, fun and hugs. I am not sure that she ever knew what to make of me, but she put up with my brashness. Her work, when studied, was extraordinary. She was hard to categorize with any “ism’s”, as she left her subject matter dictate her medium and her presentation. A master of technique, she was able to freely go where her imagination took her. I was always intrigued of her abilities, and delighted to enjoy each new phase of her talents. I certainly will miss both her and her work. She has left us an excellent volume of work for us to grow with. What more can an artist ask for? She was quite the lady.

  2. Richard & Margaret Lock says:

    Margaret & I met Fran in San Francisco in 1962 when we were all working at the Medical Center in various capacities. Margaret soon moved into an apartment with Fran and two other young women — we were all trying to decide what to do with our lives, I guess. After a year or two, Fran moved away to Wisconsin to continue her training while Margaret and I went to live in Japan and then returned to Berkeley, to graduate school. We kept in touch with Fran though we didn’t often meet, and after some years managed to visit Fran and Warrington in their country paradise! It was lovely to see them both and catch up with all the years and events that had passed. We will miss her sorely, after more than fifty years of friendship